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US pharmacy chains offer $13.8B to settle opioid cases

November 2, 2022

The deals, if completed, would end thousands of state, local and tribal government lawsuits accusing pharmacies of filling prescriptions they should have flagged as inappropriate.

Oxycodone pills
The pharmacy giants were accused of oversupplying opioid medicationImage: Keith Srakocic/AP/picture alliance

Three of the largest pharmacy chains in the United States agreed in principle on Wednesday to pay $13.8 billion (€13.9 billion) to resolve thousands of lawsuits accusing them of mishandling opioid painkillers.

CVS would pay $4.9 billion to local governments and about $130 million to Native American tribes over a decade. Walgreens would pay $4.8 billion to state and municipal governments and $155 million to tribes over 15 years.

Several US outlets, quoting sources familiar with the matter, reported Walmart also reached a tentative agreement to pay $3.1 billion. A Walmart spokesman, however, declined to comment.

The settlements were not finalized as enough plaintiffs would have agree to it first.

Neither CVS nor Walgreens admitted wrongdoing.

US opioid crisis growing

The overdose crisis in the US has been linked to more than 500,000 deaths over the past two decades.

Overdoses involving opioids surged further during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing 38% in 2020 over the previous year and another 15% in 2021, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In state, local, and tribal government lawsuits, litigants accused retailers of dispensing pain pills with little regard for red flags.

Paul Geller, one of the lawyers who negotiated for the governments, said that settlements with pharmacies "will bring billions of additional dollars to communities that are desperate for funds to combat the epidemic" of opioid addiction.

"We know that reckless, profit-driven dispensing practices fueled the crisis; but we know just as surely that with better systems in place and proper heeding of red flag warnings, pharmacies can play a direct role in reducing opioid abuse and in saving lives," Geller said.

The proposed pharmacy deal comes after other major players, including drugmakers and distributors, have reached settlements totaling more than $33 billion.

lo/es (AP, Reuters)